How the Dutch got their cycle paths

The Netherlands has the world’s
largest number of cyclists, but it is also the safest place in the
world to cycle. That is largely because of the perfect
cycling infrastructure, that can be found throughout the country. How did the Dutch get this network of high quality cycle paths? Some think, including many Dutch themselves, that cycle paths have
always been there. That is only partly true. Yes, there were some cycle paths, but they were of an entirely different
type than today. Narrow, of poor surface, dangerous or even absent
at junctions and not connected. And cycle paths weren’t really necessary, Cyclists outnumbered other
traffic by far. After World War II everything changed. The Dutch had to rebuild their country and they became incredibly wealthy. From 1948 to 1960 the average income got up by 44% and by 1970 it was a staggering 222% more. People could now afford expensive goods. And from 1957 on especially this led to many more cars in the
streets. Streets of mostly old cities that were not
built for cars. So buildings were demolished to make
room for the car. Even some of the old cycling infrastructure
was removed. City squares were turned into car parks. And new developments had huge roads for
motorized traffic. The daily travelled distance went from 3.9 kilometers in 1957 to 23.2 kilometers in 1975. But this “progress” came at a terrible
cost. Cycling was marginalized; it decreased by
6% every year and 3,300 lives were lost in 1971 alone. Over 400 of these deaths were children under the age of 14. The slaughter of kids got people on the streets. To protest. “Stop the child murder” called for safer streets for children as pedestrians and cyclists. Their calls were heard. Especially when in 1973 the first oil crisis halted the
country. The then prime minister told the people
of the Netherlands, that this crisis was life changing. That they would have to change their
ways and be less dependent on energy. But that that was possible
without a decrease in the quality of life. Policies to encourage cycling fitted perfectly in that picture. The car free Sundays to save oil were a reminder to people of what the cities looked like
without cars. Around this time, the first city centers
were made car free, permanently. And the protests continued. Mass motorization killed people, the cities and the environment. Mass cycling tours through the cities of the Netherlands
and smaller protests in favor of cycling facilities created an awareness that eventually changed thinking about
transport policies. In the mid 1970s municipalities started experimenting
with complete and safe cycle routes away from traffic. Financed by the national government, the first cycle routes were created,
from scratch, in Tilburg and The Hague. In retrospect they could be seen as the start of the
country’s modern cycling policies. Cycling increased in a
spectacular way. In The Hague by 30 to 60% and in Tilburg by 75%. “Build it and they will come” proved true in the Netherlands. So to sum it up. What caused the changes in the
Netherlands? There were the problems of: cities that couldn’t cope with the
increasing traffic. That led to demolishions and to a public
outrage over the amount of space handed over to motorized traffic. An intolerable number of traffic deaths that
again led to mass public protests. An oil crisis and an economic crisis
that led to gas shortages and high prices of energy. The solution was found in the political
will on a national and municipal level with both decisionmakers and planners to deal with this situation. By turning away from car centric policies and making way for alternative transport, like cycling. Cycling is now an integral part of
transport policies. And what success did the protesters have? The child deaths went down
from over 400 to 14 last year. This street got its cycle path. This bridge didn’t keep its cycle lane, instead it got a cycle path. This painted cycle lane, became a permanent cycle path and cars were totally banned from here. It is the now famous site
of the “I amsterdam” sign. Earlier, also a site of
one of the mass protests. The protesters would have been a lot
more comfortable lying down there today. The Netherlands’ problems were and are
not unique. Their solutions shouldn’t be that either.